Talk at the Society for American Archaeology

Next week I am scheduled to give a talk during the 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, which will take place April 15-19 in San Francisco. Title and abstract are as follows:

Can government be self-organized? A mathematical model of the collective social organization of ancient Teotihuacan, Central Mexico

Tom Froese, Carlos Gershenson, and Linda R. Manzanilla

Pyramid of the Feathered SerpentTeotihuacan was the first extensive urban civilization of Mesoamerica and one of the largest of the ancient world. Following a tradition in archaeology to equate social complexity with centralized hierarchy, it is still widely believed that its origin and growth was controlled by a dynastic lineage of powerful individuals.

However, much data is indicative of a government of co-rulers, and artistic traditions expressed an egalitarian ideology while deemphasizing individuals. Yet this heterarchical alternative keeps being marginalized because the problems of collective action, such as the tragedy of the commons, make it difficult to conceive how such a coalition could have functioned even in principle. We therefore devised a simplified mathematical model of the city’s hypothetical network of neighborhood representatives, serving as a proof of concept that widespread cooperation was realizable in a fully distributed manner.

In the model, political decisions become self-organized into globally optimal consensuses, even though local representatives always behave and modify relations in a rational and selfish manner. The network’s self-optimization of connectivity crucially depends on occasional communal interruptions of normal activity, and becomes impeded when groups are too independent. We relate these insights to theories about community rituals at Teotihuacan and the city’s eventual disintegration.

Talk on dynamics, phenomenology, and development

Next week I will give a talk at the 18th Herbstakademie: The Circularity of Mind and Body, which will take place in Heidelberg, Germany, March 26-28. The title and abstract are as follows:

Investigations of the interactively extended embodied mind: Dynamics, phenomenology, and development

Tom Froese

I will present the latest results deriving from many years of interdisciplinary investigations of the socially extended embodied mind. The upshot is that the process of understanding another person is best studied as primarily consisting of a direct perceptual experience of each other, whereby this genuinely second-person perspective is co-constituted by the skillful mutual coordination of bodily interaction. There are many theoretical reasons for accepting this position, and a series of agent-based models of bodily interaction show that the emergence of a dynamically extended embodiment spanning two agents is possible in principle. In fact, the mathematics of nonlinear interactions leads us to expect that such mutual incorporation should be found in actuality. But can it?

We studied this possibility by means of the perceptual crossing paradigm, in which the embodied interaction of pairs of adults is mediated by a minimalist virtual reality interface. As predicted, behaviors became entrained during interaction, and there was a positive correlation between objective measures of coordination and subjective reports of clearer awareness of the other’s presence. Intriguingly, there was a tendency for coordinating participants to independently report within seconds of each other that they had noticed the other, suggesting that there was a mutual recognition of a genuinely shared experience. But was this moment experienced from a second-person perspective? And if so, did it develop as a skill?

To answer these questions we performed a qualitative study of free-text phenomenological descriptions of the moment of recognition, as well as a diachronic analysis of the results. Since participants had to implicitly relearn how to perceive the other’s presence, we hypothesized that there would be a recapitulation of the initial developmental stages of social awareness, starting with more dyadic forms of self-directedness. Our preliminary results indicate that this was indeed the case.

New commentary on the origins of the symbolic mind

Since the publication of the Turing patterns paper in 2013 I have been involved in several exchanges in order to clarify and expand my ideas. The latest exchange of commentaries has just been published in the Rock Art Research, the official organ of the Australian Rock Art Research Association and the International Federation of Rock Art Organisations.

Helvenston, P. A. (2015a). Psilocybin-containing mushrooms, Upper Palaeolithic rock art and the neuropsychological model. Rock Art Research, 32(1): 84-89

Froese, T. (2015). The ritualised mind alteration hypothesis of the origins and evolution of the symbolic human mind. Rock Art Research, 32(1): 90-97

Helvenston, P. A. (2015b). Suppositions of psilocybin-mushroom incorporation as the main driver of human cognitive and symbolic evolution. Rock Art Research, 32(1): 98-109

At the core of this debate is the question over whether rituals involving altered states of consciousness could have played a role in human prehistory, and whether these states necessarily would have required the presence of certain psychoactive substances, and if these substances would have even been available at the time. In essence, my answers are yes, no, but yes.

In this post I previously remarked about my disagreements with the way in which the commentaries about my work had been presented. But I prefer to advance the scientific debate itself, so I will highlight one aspect of Helvenston’s last response that I find intriguing. She notes how it is difficult to explain the presence of extreme rituals, especially those involving partially disabling substances, from an evolutionary perspective.

This ties in with current debates in the science of religion, which tries to explain costly rituals in a variety of ways such as honest signaling and pro-social psychological effects. I’ve been thinking for a while that it is likely that such rituals would have had to have biologically adaptive advantages from the start, perhaps related to a form of neural self-optimization similar to the model presented in Woodward, Froese and Ikegami (in press). This could be a topic of future work.

News about model of ancient Teotihuacan

A news report based on an interview I gave to Ciencia UNAM has been published on their web portal:

Santillán, M. L. (Feb. 23, 2015). Modelo matemático revela la organización política de Teotihuacán. Ciencia UNAM. Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Retrieved from

It describes the social network model we made about the collective government of ancient Teotihuacan, Mexico.

Beyond neurophenomenology: A review of Colombetti’s The Feeling Body

My review of Giovanna Colombetti’s book The Feeling Body has been accepted for publication in New Ideas in Psychology. Title and abstract are as follows:

Beyond neurophenomenology: A review of Colombetti’s The Feeling Body

Tom Froese

I review The Feeling Body: Affective Science Meets the Enactive Mind by Giovanna Colombetti (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2014, 288 pages, $40.00 hardcover). In this book Colombetti draws on the enactive theory of organismic embodiment and its key concept of sense-making in order to critically evaluate various aspects of mainstream affective science, including basic emotions and alternative constructionist approaches, as well as the cognitivist approach to emotion and appraisal theory. She defends and develops a dynamical systems approach to emotions and emphasizes the need for including more first-person methods of consciousness science in mainstream affective neuroscience. These are valuable contributions to affective science, and they also advance enactive theory. Colombetti’s proposal goes further than standard neurophenomenology in that she appeals to the bodily basis of feeling, thereby requiring a new sort of neuro-physio-phenomenology. Even more radically, she allows that all living beings are essentially affective beings, even those without a nervous system, and that emotional forms could be co-constituted by more than one person.

Article: Computational Aspects of Ancient Social Heterarchies

The latest issue of The Journal of Sociocybernetics has just been released. It includes a contribution that arose from this year’s collaboration with my Colombian colleagues. I thank the many Colombian archaeologists and anthropologists who kindly took the time to meet with us and who provided many helpful comments and insights.

Computational Aspects of Ancient Social Heterarchies: Learning how to Address Contemporary Global Challenges

Nathalie Mezza-Garcia, Tom Froese, Nelson Fernández

As hierarchically and centrally controlled computational systems, contemporary political systems have limitations in their information processing and action capacities to face the current social crises and challenges. In contrast, some older cultures whose political structure was more heterarchically organized, such as found in pre-Hispanic Colombia, were adaptive even without advanced scientific knowledge and without powerful top-down control. In this context, we propose that creating and analyzing computer models of their decentralized processes of management can provide a broader perspective on the possibilities of political organization. In terms of self-optimization, this approach seeks the promotion of social systems with a balance of flexibility and robustness, i.e., systems that do not rely on the current ideal of rule-based control of all systemic aspects.

Tayrona vessel
Vessel produced by the Tayrona in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta between 900 and 1600 AD showing a ritual scene. (Photo courtesy of Museo de Oro, Bogotá)

Our Teotihuacan social network research on TV

The interdisciplinary collaboration between two social systems modelers, Carlos Gershenson and I, and one of the most renowned archaeologists of Teotihuacan resulted in a first attempt to formally explore the possibilities of collective government of the ancient city:

Froese T, Gershenson C, Manzanilla LR (2014) Can Government Be Self-Organized? A Mathematical Model of the Collective Social Organization of Ancient Teotihuacan, Central Mexico. PLoS ONE 9(10): e109966. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0109966

The press release has been taken up by national Mexican TV. See the interviews here:

Hechos Meridiano (2014, Nov. 26). Los misterios de Teotihuacan [Television broadcast]. TV Azteca: Azteca Noticias. Retrieved from:

And here:

Creadores Universitarias (2014, Nov. 26). Arqueología matemática [Television broadcast]. Noticierios Televisa: FOROtv. Retrieved from:


New book on making sense of non-sense

MakingSenseOfNon-SenseCoverThis week was the official release of “Enactive Cognition at the Edge of Sense-Making: Making Sense of Non-Sense”, which I co-edited with Max Cappuccio. Our general proposal is that the route from basic adaptive behavior to higher-level abstract cognition cannot be taken without addressing the way in which humans are able to appreciate and deal with non-sense as such.

Through the interdisciplinary contributions of the authors we are able to trace the role of non-sense in a wide variety of domains, including the psychology and philosophy of perception, psychiatry, immunology, physics, gender studies, anthropology, phenomenology, primatology, and so forth.

The book can be purchased directly from the publishers, Palgrave Macmillan. Digital versions are also available from their website. Individual chapters can be accessed via Palgrave Connect. It is also available from the usual distributers, such as Amazon.

Participation at “El Error Maquínico”

This week there is a conference on “El Error Maquínico: Encuentro Internacional de Robótica Artística” at the Centro Nacional de las Artes in Mexico City.
I have been invited to participate in a discussion panel on the topic of “La belleza del código”, which will take place tomorrow between 12:00 and 14:00. I will talk about instability and creativity.

Talk: Technological transformations of the mind-body problem

CienciaFicciónCiencia2014I was invited to give a talk at the conference “Ciencia-Ficción-Ciencia v2.0: Ciencia del Futuro, Futuro en la Ficción” as part of the round table on “Transformed Bodies”, which will take place tomorrow, Wednesday the 5th of Nov., at 11:30 in the Institute of Nuclear Sciences of UNAM.

The title of my talk is “Technological transformations of the mind-body problem”, in which I will discuss my theoretical and experimental work with enactive interfaces.

« Older entries


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 69 other followers